Sippican Cottage

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The Search for Authenticity

J.J. Cale passed away. The headline on MSNBC bleats: “Songwriter on Eric Clapton’s Cocaine.”

That ain’t English, son, as I’m wont to say. It’s not Eric Clapton’s song. It’s J.J. Cale’s song. He wrote it. He’d be the songwriter of, not on, anyway. Since Cale both wrote and recorded the song originally, Eric Clapton was performing a cover of J.J. Cale’s Cocaine.  That’s the way English works. It’s the way the music business functions, as well.

Eric Clapton is a scholar of music. He’s mostly a syncretist. He studies and absorbs, then lets it loose in a mashup. Like many syncretists, he searches for and prizes authenticity. J.J. Cale had that. He absorbed what Tulsa, Oklahoma had to offer, boiled it down into an identifiable mixture, and then let it back out. Leon Russell was from Tulsa, too, and they both went out to Los Angeles in the sixties and peddled their authenticity as best they could. Eric Clapton couldn’t compose like Tulsa, but he could hire it out. He was a J. J. Cale tribute band for a few years, more or less.

Hipsters like authenticity. Interestingly, they have a tendency to despise and revile the cultures that produce that authenticity. Tulsa’s flyover country. Redstate. Redneck. Oil patch yokel. The actual culture that produced J. J. Cale would make everybody at the record company’s flesh crawl.

Pop culture is mostly vampiric. It sucks the life out of real culture without getting any nourishment from it, infects it in turn with its lack of real life by interacting with it, and then moves on from the shambles it’s created when its finished. It’s the same attitude that inserts 45 minutes of raging Catholicism into movies made by unbelievers. See: Cimino, Michael, or Coppola, Francis.

J. J. Cale was the real thing, nourished on the real thing. He deserves more respect than tortured grammar and an ad for a Clapton record on his tombstone. RIP John Weldon Cale.

(Thanks to Mark Miller for sending that one along)

Newport 1958

Hep cats.

The Train and the River. Jimmy Guiffre Three.  Probably the last time anyone played a valve trombone in public. Probably.

The movie Jazz on a Summer’s Day documents the Newport Jazz festival in Newport Rhode Island in 1958. I like watching it to see people in an audience looking well turned out. Fast forward a decade and it’s all patchouli and B.O.

The fifties were supposedly a vast cultural wasteland. I don’t see it. There were challenging and interesting things happening in music, film, fashion, books, and every other stripe of intellectual folderol. People still tried to look and act like adults. I’d rather be plunked into that movie than Woodstock. Waking up in a mud puddle that’s only mosty mud while Sha Na Na performs isn’t my cup of tea. And I imagine the drugs were better in Newport, anyway. The gin and tonics most definitely were.

My older brother once mentioned to me that a trombone and a saxophone is the best horn section you can muster. Trumpet’s too, well, brassy. They sure sound wonderful together here.

The Somewhat Organized Hancock Update

That’s right, Unorganized Hancock fans, my Fab Two sons will be playing two really big shoes at the Skowhegan Riverfest. Saturday at noon, on the main stage under the big top, and Sunday at ten to help you choke down a Bloody Mary while you pick at your omelette at the Pickup Cafe. Be there or be L7, man.

They’re almost a year better than this now:

A Littel History

I have a long and illustrious pedigree. Interestingly, furniture and mixed metaphors are woven throughout the warp and woof of my family tree like a tunnel left by a powder post beetle.

The earliest recollection of family goes back to 1736, when the local lord, a certain A. A. A. D’Artagnan Umslopagaas Dynamite Macaulay, took a decided interest in my Irish ancestor Brutus Sippican’s bodger business. He was egged on, no doubt, by Brutus’ wife, Fanny, who was described by the local constabulary as “comely of visage, and a real goer.” It is said that she would tout Brutus’ abilities in the making of his innovative “Two Legged Stoole,” and was unstinting in her efforts to attract potential buyers from far and wide, especially when Brutus was out gathering wood.

Not much is known of Brutus himself; but according to court documents he was called on urgent business to a British town called Newgate, and liked it so much he decided to take up permanent residence there. Mr. Macaulay kindly offered to look after Fanny, and it is said that Brutus’ youngest bairn, raised in the lap of luxury at the Macaulay estate, was so happy with his new accommodations that he began to favor his step-father even in his physical appearance.

After a time, old A.A.A. seemed captivated by the young lad’s proclivity for daubing interesting things on the walls, and legally had the boy’s name changed to Mene Mene Tekel Upharson Sippican, and turned him out of doors and bade him to make his fortune in the manual arts, though the boy was only three. We Sippicans are a doughty lot, and often make our way in the world early in life.

Mene Mene made his way to London, where he was a great hit. He was trained in the classical manner in an alley, and found many deep-pocketed patrons for his talents, especially on race day when people were crowded very closely together at the rail. Mene is said to have grown forlorn after a time, and was so stricken with longing for his long lost father that he followed him to Newgate and decided to “hang” there as well, to use the amusing vernacular of the time.

But before Mene left, he too had a son to carry on the line. Little Belvoir Sippican was born into straitened circumstances, but like all our line, soon learned to look after himself. He is the first of our line to make his way to the Americas, although his name did not appear on the register of any ship for some reason. Like many of our clan, he liked to keep an unostentatious profile. He was a gifted storyteller, and is said to have regaled many of his former British Isle compatriots with uproarious and detailed yarns about a certain G. Washington.

Various locals took umbrage at the silver-tongued devil’s ability to entertain his audiences, and Belvoir was chased from the burgs of New York due to such jealousies. He decided to make his way to Canada to make his fortune, which he no doubt would have done had he not succumbed to injuries suffered in an unfortunate mumblety-peg incident in Boston.

But the Sippicans are nothing if not lucky, and Belvoir was able to find a woman willing to carry on the line, who in an astonishing coincidence was married to the fellow old Belvoir was playing that exuberant game of mumblety-peg with. Cassandra seemed put off by her husband’s behavior and left him to raise little Cyrus Sippican on her own. Cassandra was a proud woman, and considered a style setter in each of the numerous towns she inhabited. She seems to have started the craze of wearing letters on your outerclothes as a fashion statement, a practice still in vogue among American footballers to this day.

Cyrus grew up and was said to be a giant among men. He made his way out in the landscape as a wrassler, sometimes against other humans. His signature move, the eye-gouge, is still popular in modern wrestling circles as well as daycare centers.

Here the trail goes cold a bit, although you can espy Cyrus painted into the bottom left corner of a Thomas Cole landscape painting, bothering a bear for the amusement of a gathering of Mohican Indians who were Cyrus’ trading partners. The painting, though one of the finest of the Hudson River School, is too indistinct to determine what business Cyrus had with the Indians. He is reported to have purchased large quantities of corks in New York, so he may have been teaching the tribe how to fish using a bobber. We can only conjecture.

Cyrus lived to a ripe old age, and after his death, his son Archie Sippican made his way east once more. He is rumored to have been employed mowing the lawn at Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin allowing Hank, as Archie called him, more time to write. Various items that formerly belonged to Mr. Thoreau have been handed down in our family for generations; we are planning to read the book some time in the future as well.

The trail goes cold for a bit again, but Archie’s peripatations led him to Chicago, where he was reported to be talking excitedly to the fellow that shot William McKinley just moments before the dreadful deed; but apparently the Sippican silver tongue was not enough to dissuade the gentlemen.

Archie’s bairn Cuthbert was said to have what sounds like some sort of door to door cutlery sales business, and traveled widely and quickly around the midwest. The exact nature of the business is unknown; but there are many references to families throughout the great midsection of our land counting their spoons after a successful visit by old Cuthbert.

Cuthbert had a brother, who was apparently both some sort of doctor and a convert to evanglicalism. He is said to have been very handsome and popular, and traveled widely throughout the south, and went by the unusual moniker of Positive Wasserman Sippican.

The Sippican line’s Irish-Catholic roots asserted themselves again later in the twentieth century, when my own father, Cuthbert’s grandson Zoltan Sippican, was testifying in court about some matter or another. When asked: “Occupation of Father?” young Zoltan answered: “I think he’s taken the Holy Orders, your honor.” “Why is that, son?” asked the judge. Zoltan replied that he was told that every time Archie was brought before a magistrate and asked his occupation, he was famous for answering: “Nun.”

Piano Lessons With The Maharaja of the Keyboard

He’s as pleasant and avuncular as a Mountie. He was born in Canada, after all. He practiced six hours a day until he could play like that. Everyone thinks there’s some other approach that will work.

His geniality masks what appears to me to be genius. Prodigious guided intellect with a view around a corner. He understands the essence of what scores of other estimable performers were doing, and can execute them on a whim. But he’s not a mimic. He understands it, then uses it.

I can’t recall a piano player that had all that firepower at his disposal that still played eminently accessible music with it. He never forgot to entertain the audience. Even when he wasn’t playing the piano.

Oscar Peterson

That Is, Like, SO USA

Guy Van Duser, absolutely killing The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa, on the cuestick guitar.

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans. To all my British friends: Better luck next time!

The Somewhat Organized Hancock Update

Unorganized Hancock has kept their nose to the grindstone in the weeks since they posted their last video. They’re going to be performing at the Skowhegan River Fest in Skowhegan, Maine on Sunday, August 4th, outdoors at the Pickup Cafe from 10 AM to noon. The River Fest runs for six days, with lots of stuff to do.

I’ve never been to Skowhegan, though I once built a McDonald’s restaurant there. It’s easier to build a restaurant over the phone than you might imagine. That was back when I lived in Massachusetts, and Skowhegan looked like the end of the Earth on the map to my eye. Now it’s just an hour and fifteen minutes or so from my house, and it’s mostly east, not north. They have one of Maine’s notable rivers, the Kennebec. We of course have the Androscoggin in our back yard, and so are a bit haughty about other people’s second-rate rivers. But the Kennebec will have to do.

We’ve purchased a pop-up awning tent to keep the boys in the shade while they’re playing, and to repel any surprise showers. We’ve had 144 surprise showers in the last 10 days, so it’s always something to think about. We’re adding a bench seat to the back of my big work van so we can all travel to Skowhegan together with all the boys’ equipment. We are still unsure if we’re required to  paint the van in a Mondrian motif if we’re going to travel around like that.

I have often told my readers that I have a lot less to do with my children’s musical education than is commonly assumed. I offer them encouragement, but they mostly do it themselves. There are no raps on the knuckles with rulers while they play scales all day. But there has been one aspect of their education that I have stressed: They are being prepared to work as musicians. This is something I do know something about. Music instruction in schools consists solely of preparing you to become a music teacher. All the self-organized bands the kids form start nowhere and go noplace, almost by design.

Here’s the usual plan:

A. Form band
B. ?????
C. Rock stars!

Life doesn’t work that way. You need to find places to play, and audiences to entertain, and find a way to charge to play at these places. Simply learning to play isn’t half of the music business, and honestly, most never even get that far. They learn two-thirds of some song no one wants to hear, and then give up. You have to amuse the audience. That concept — you’re supposed to entertain the audience, not yourselves — is not just overlooked by 99 percent of potential musicians, it’s an entirely alien idea to them. It’s old hat to my boys.

I’ve never been more pleased with The Heir than when he took all the evidence he has of Unorganized Hancock’s activities and capabilities and sent it out to the organizers of this, and other venues in Maine that they might be appropriate for. That’s difficult work. It’s starting to pay off. They’ve been tentatively scheduled for a much larger show than Skowhegan as well, but we don’t count our chickens until the ink is dry, to mix our metaphors. More news ahead.

The Heir acted like a pro, because that’s what he’s become. They are still just children — one of them is barely ten — but they act like responsible adults. My wife and I are dreadfully proud of them.

We’re immensely grateful to all my readers for their support and encouragement of the little fellers over this last year or so. They’ll be performing using equipment that we never could have afforded to purchase for them except for the generous donations to their tip jar up there in my right hand column.

My older son already plays three instruments better than I ever did, and sings better, too. The younger one plays the drums better than I can already, too, and is twice as charming as I’ve ever managed. How can they fail?

Month: July 2013

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